Life in a high-rise apartment: I didn’t see a neighbour in weeks
Domain, 7 December 2015
I can go days or weeks without seeing a neighbour – I live in a ghost apartment tower. When I first moved in I went up and down the halls and I put my ear to the doors, listening for signs of life – television or a conversation. Another human being. And … nothing.
I’d expected it to be like Melrose Place. I thought I’d be gossiping with people in the lift, going out for coffee with neighbours on Sunday morning, and helping each other carry groceries.
In the marketing materials for these new apartment developments there’s always attractive people – he’s got a beard and chunky glasses, she’s got shopping bags from her latest expedition down Chapel Street – enjoying their “lifestyle”. Have another chardonnay! Don’t mind if I do! Drop in whenever you want!
I thought it would be a vertical village and that appealed because I wanted to live somewhere a bit more social than where I’d been before.
But that first night I didn’t hear or see a single, solitary soul. Not a mouse.
When I went to find my car space, there were lots of vacant spots in the basement: more evidence there really were not many people living here.
A study last year of water use in new high-rise towers in Melbourne suggests that many aren’t occupied.
These apartments had been bought by investors, probably from overseas, who didn’t want the hassle or cost of renting them out. They are used as a bricks and mortar bank – a safe spot for money. And so they just sit there empty
Researchers found that 65,000 of the 1.5 million properties in prime areas of the city are “speculatively vacant”. Some of those are definitely in my tower.
At first, it was exciting to have a whole floor – what felt like even a whole building – to myself.
It was like being in a movie, like The Day of the Triffids. It felt as though I’d woken up from a coma and everybody else had been wiped out by mystery virus or a zombie apocalypse.
But there was novelty in that. I could nip to the bin chute in worst tracksuit pants and not fear being caught. I could play my most embarrassing mix tape on full blast and know I likely wasn’t disturbing anyone.
So it was a shock, a couple of weeks in, when I got in the lift in the lobby and it was occupied by someone coming up from the basement carpark – a bodybuilder-type wearing a muscle tank singlet, cradling a pomeranian puppy. We didn’t say hi.
That was six months ago.
My tower is a sparkling new building with hundreds of apartments, stacked dozens of storeys high.
My rental is so small it would be illegal in Sydney, which has tougher regulations on apartment size than Melbourne.
It has a fireplace for ambience, but I worry about it setting the couch on fire, everything is packed so tightly.
But I don’t mind it being teeny – it’s easy to keep tidy, has a balcony, a “rainshower” in the bathroom and I can see the MCG and a snippet of the CBD skyline. It’s a true inner-city pied a terre.
I had gotten used to the deathly quiet when, one Sunday, the fire alarm went off at 7am.
We were evacuated and I was surprised to see one hundred or so people spilling into the street, all of us in pyjamas. We asked the fireman what had happened; he said somebody burnt toast and then opened their front door, which set off the main alarm.
That was the day I met my neighbours – three months after I’d moved in.
Actually, I had sort of been introduced to one neighbour, by proxy, on the day I picked up my keys.
I discovered her car in my car spot and complained to the real estate agent. The neighbour refused to move, and still parks in my spot – but I now park in hers. We don’t speak.
But on fire alarm day I made a friend, although not quite like the brochures promised.
There was no guy with a beard and a fixie, but there was a nice girl who, it turned out, lives across the hall from me. She said she’d never seen anybody else, either. We promised to catch up for coffee – after all, we’d already seen each other in pyjamas.
A few days later, I wrote my phone number on a piece of paper and slipped it under her door.
We get together once every few weeks and it’s not Melrose Place, but it’s something.
I am now halfway through my first year lease. When it comes up for renewal, I am going to stay. It is not what I thought it was going to be like, but I have come to love my ghost tower.